Leahy proposes bill to protect Vermont’s GMO labeling law

Patrick Leahy

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in Brattleboro, Aug. 31, 2015. Photo by Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced legislation Wednesday in the U.S. Senate that would require food manufacturers across the country to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients.

The bill was written in response to legislation introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, that would prohibit states, including Vermont, from implementing laws that mandate disclosure of genetically engineered products in processed foods. The U.S. House passed a similar bill blocking state labeling laws last summer.

Leahy’s bill was written to protect Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which is set to take effect this summer. The state law, Act 120, requires food manufacturers to label most foods sold in Vermont that contain genetically engineered ingredients. Two other states, Maine and Connecticut, have passed similar laws, and 30 states have introduced labeling legislation. Vermont’s law is the first to go into effect on July 1, 2016.

“I will continue to oppose any bill that takes away the rights of Vermont, or any other state, to legislate in a way that advances public health and food safety, informs consumers about potential environmental effects, avoids consumer confusion, and protects religious traditions,” Leahy told members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on Tuesday. “We should be moving in a direction that offers consumers more information and more choices — not less information and fewer choices.”

Roberts’ bill would prevent Vermont’s Act 120 from taking effect — a move Roberts said was needed to prevent billions of dollars of added cost to Americans’ food. He told committee members that every American would need to pay an additional $1,050 a year for food as the result of changes stemming from the Vermont labeling law.

But that figure is not accurate. It comes from a study that calculated the cost of banning GMOs. According to a research paper from the Corn Refiners Association, prohibiting GMOs from the American food supply would cost $81.9 billion annually.

The Corn Refiners Association funded study, published last month, actually found that nationwide labeling of genetically-engineered food would cost Americans a one-time total of $12 each, or about $3.8 billion in its entirety. The consumer advocacy group Consumer’s Union in 2014 put the cost of labeling genetically-modified foods at around $2.30 per American per year.

Representatives from Roberts’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

Act 120’s lead sponsor, state Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, said she is grateful to Leahy for defending the Vermont law, but she’s unsure he’ll succeed.

“I’m pleased with him for standing up and doing the right thing,” she said. “I’m looking at the make-up of Congress, and I’m thinking it will not go well.”

Webb said she’s optimistic, though, that Act 120 will withstand a suit brought against the state by food manufacturers, which is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The likelihood that Vermont will successfully defend the labeling law in court drove Roberts to write legislation to defeat what manufacturers couldn’t on their own, Leahy alleged in a press release.

Kate Webb

Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, majority whip of the House. File Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Vermonters ought to be able to put their laws in place without undue interference from Congress, said Falko Schilling, one of Act 120’s proponents and the Consumer and Environmental Advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

“We’re really disappointed to see what the Senate Agriculture Committee did, moving forward with a bill that’s a direct affront to thousands of Vermonters and the Vermont legislature,” Schilling said. “We believe the democratic process here in Vermont should be respected, and Washington shouldn’t be coming in here to keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin, too, leveled harsh words against legislators who would overrule Vermont law from Washington.

“It is highly ironic that the Republican Congress is all for state’s rights, just not when it comes to issues like allowing women to make their own health care decisions or giving people the right to know what is in the food they buy,” Shumlin said in a press release Wednesday.

Webb said Vermonters support labeling for a number of reasons, including religious observances, uncertainty over genetically-engineered plants’ unforeseen environmental effects, and a lack of independent peer-reviewed literature on the subject.

Webb testified in support of Act 120 in front of the health subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce last winter, before that committee approved a bill substantially similar to the Roberts bill. Webb told representatives that surveys showed 75 percent of Vermonters support Act 120.

More than 90 percent of Americans say they support the idea that consumers should know whether they’re purchasing genetically-engineered foods, Schilling said.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, this story originally said the cost of GMO labeling would be $81.9 billion, according to the Corn Refiners Association report. The cost cited in the report for labeling is $3.8 billion.

Mike Polhamus

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18 Comments on "Leahy proposes bill to protect Vermont’s GMO labeling law"


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Michael Colby
10 months 12 days ago

More choices? How about we start addressing the fact that 96% of the feed corn grown in Vermont — and fed to Cabot and Ben & Jerry’s cows — is GMO derived? That’s 92,000 acres of GMO feed corn grown right here in Vermont. Worse, this corn is requiring more toxic pesticides and climate-threatening nitrogen fertilizers. We’ve got to go beyond a labeling law that doesn’t address our state’s deep complicity in the problem of industrial agriculture.

Judith McLaughlin
10 months 12 days ago

Well said Mr. Colby. We are a state of hypocrites.

Nate Chittenden
10 months 9 days ago

I won’t deny that you’re hypocrites, especially when you fail to realize that modern biotech allows farmers to use less pesticides, and that all crops require nitrogen, which farmers have been more efficiently using through better management practices. Of course the fact that your own farmers don’t support your labeling laws. You would think that might be a big hint that you are on the wrong side.

edward letourneau
10 months 12 days ago

We should be thanking these people. After all we all have an extra thousand dollars to spend on food, and this provides a real easy way to cost us that, while providing nothing that we really need. This is progressive thinking at its very best.

robert fuller
10 months 12 days ago

The $1000 has nothing to do with the label itself. They are making an assumption.

“However, costs rise substantially as manufacturers shift to reformulate products to non-GMO. Such a switch would cost $81.9 billion annually, or approximately $1,050 per family per year in the form of higher food prices.”

Bonnie MacBrien
10 months 12 days ago
Apparently Mr. Letourneau didn’t read the complete article – Senator Robert did not provide anything close to an accurate cost figure. Nothing like lies and exaggerations to get your (or big business profits’) way. From the above article – “Roberts’ bill would prevent Vermont’s Act 120 from taking effect — a move Roberts said was needed to prevent billions of dollars of added cost to Americans’ food. He told committee members that every American would need to pay an additional $1,050 a year for food as the result of changes stemming from the Vermont labeling law. But that figure is… Read more »
edward letourneau
10 months 12 days ago

I read the column. The number from the advocates is so far below the number from industry that it cannot be trusted. Now the number from industry might be way high, but you can’t have a difference of over $1000 without someone lying. If you want to believe that it will cost only a couple of dollars a year to relabel just about food every product on a store shelf, go ahead. For me, I want proof!

David Zuckerman
10 months 11 days ago
There are two different issues at play here. And the side that does not want labeling is purposefully using misinformation to confuse people and to scare people. The first is what the actual cost for adjusting the labels would be. And that is accurately a very small number. There was a study by Cornell University that the industry used to indicate that the food cost to consumers would cost the average family of four $400 more per year in food bills. But when one read the actual study, that was only if that family changed their purchasing habits to buy… Read more »
Nate Chittenden
10 months 9 days ago

Well, considering that Connecticut’s law only goes into affect IF New York AND Massachusetts pass laws, I would be careful of who gets accused of exaggerations. And the actual cost to the average family of four to undergo this law has been calculated to be 500$. Small potatoes(GMO free of course) for those of you affluent folks. Too bad there are a whole bunch of food insecure families in your state who don’t seem to be considered important.

Jim Minnich
10 months 12 days ago
This problem we have concerning GMO products in our food is derived from misguided thinking regarding regulation. George Bush senior opened the door for Monsanto to sell unchallenged contaminated seeds containing GMO’s without a thorough testing procedure to determine the adverse effects of combining poisonous material with the natural genetic make up of our food supply. Ask yourselves the question; why are counties in Europe and New Zealand banning the importation and the growing of GMO food products? Are we so arrogant that we totally ignore the research and discoveries by non-USA enterprises? Simply put, GMO food is poisonous and… Read more »
George Boomhower
10 months 12 days ago
This is why I love the Digger. There are great arguments on both sides of the issue, on a wide range of issues.Michael Colby hit it for me with his comments on just what is going into the cows from who we ingest so much. Cabot, Ben and Jerrys. My opinion is that Ben and Jerrys (Ben Cohen) blew it by pushing for the GMO labelling law and then saying that the pesticides and herbicides that the farmers have to use to grow their monoculture corn doesn’t get through the cow into the milk that is used to make their… Read more »
robert fuller
10 months 12 days ago
There is that aspect, but there are other issues. One reason for GMO is to create pesticide/herbicide resistance. What this means is your food is being doused with liberal amounts of pesticides and herbicides. Never mind the genetics. It’s no coincidence that Roundup is made by Monsanto and Monsanto is producing GMO seed. Another case of a corporation giving you a fuzzy warm feeling (we will feed the world and end starvation) while really it’s all about their wallet. Meanwhile Monsanto is strong arming the whole industry by forcing farmers to use their GMO seed. They have done this by… Read more »
Martine Victor
10 months 11 days ago
Vermont’s labeling law is not about banning GMO products, a misleading tactic by opponents that twists the issue to make labeling appear far more draconian and expensive than it is. It’s a simple human rights law to enable consumers to make informed choices about the food they buy. Interestingly, many companies voluntarily use the label NON GMO Project Verified because they know people have concerns and want transparency. Their products have not become outlandishly expensive as a result of a sporting the small, square logo with an orange butterfly. The majority of consumers may have no qualms about buying GMO… Read more »
Robert Krampf
10 months 11 days ago
Also consider that Vermont cheese is made with rennet derived from genetically modified yeast and bacteria, which is why they excluded cheese from the GMO labeling bill. If you are going to require labeling, require specific labeling to tell exactly which proteins, genes, etc. are included that are not usually found in the food. Generic labeling is like going to the pharmacy, and bringing home a bag full of bottles that are just labeled “medicine”, without any idea of what medicine is in each bottle, or what they are for. Different genetically modified organisms (including mutagenics and hybrids which are… Read more »
boots wardinski
10 months 11 days ago

what’s protecting religious traditions have to do with labeling or not labeling products containing gmos? labeling by any measure is worthless.

boots wardinski, candidate for lt. governor

William Hays
10 months 10 days ago

Time for Leahy and Sanders to move to the EU, if they allow white immigrants.

William Hays
10 months 10 days ago

How ’bout the recent revelation that grated Parmesan cheese contains cellulose? It is not listed, percentage-wise, on the containers, but is used as an anti-clumping agent. If that is the purpose, good deal, ‘tree-huggers’ be damned. BTW, I buy clumping ‘kitty litter’ with Bentonite. I will NOT be adding grated Parmesan cheese to my cat’s litter box, even if it contains cellulose from non-GMO shrubbery.

Barbara Forauer
10 months 9 days ago

Personally I want to know what is in the food I am about to purchase. Let me have the choice to buy it or not but I want the possibility of that choice.

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